Jadon Sancho was born in Camberwell but has never played a professional game of club football in England. Having joined Watford at the age of seven and then Manchester City as a 14-year-old, the winger made a bold move in signing for Borussia Dortmund in 2017. The risk has paid off spectacularly well for the teenager, who returns to London for Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Tottenham Hotspur as one of his team’s most important players.
On the face of it, joining Dortmund would not appear to represent a gamble at all. This, after all, is one of the biggest clubs in Europe, with a passionate fan base and the highest average attendance on the continent. They have regularly won trophies in the last few years too, and have a proven track record of developing young talent.
Sancho, though, still had plenty to lose when he opted to swap Manchester for North Rhine-Westphalia. Moving abroad, particularly at such a young age, was simply not something that English players did; as well as adapting to a different footballing environment, Sancho would have to cope with a new culture, a new language and a new experience of living overseas for the first time – all at the tender age of 17. Moreover, he was not just leaving Manchester City behind but also the chance to work with Pep Guardiola, arguably the world’s greatest coach and one of the biggest managerial innovators in the history of the sport.
Yet 18 months on from the transfer and Sancho has wholly justified his decision. Having made only 12 appearances in all competitions last term, the 18-year-old began the current campaign as a substitute, but it did not take him long to make an impact off the bench: by the time of his first Bundesliga start under Lucien Favre in October, Sancho had already provided five assists, scored one goal and delivered a series of eye-catching cameo performances.
He has not looked back since that maiden inclusion in the BVB XI four months ago, racking up another six goals and three assists in the Bundesliga. Sancho has also opened his Champions League account in that time, finding the net in the 4-0 rout of Atletico Madrid, and made his debut for England at senior level. It has been a whirlwind season for the ex-City attacker, and with Dortmund targeting success both domestically and on the continent, Sancho still has plenty left to play for in the coming months.
Whoever starts for Tottenham at left-back on Wednesday will certainly have a game on their hands. Sancho possesses speed and trickery in abundance, and is the type of winger who can either beat his man down the outside or by cutting infield. Most impressive of all is his decision-making and end product; while many young wide players possess raw talent but frequently come up short when it comes to making the right choice, Sancho is remarkably polished for someone so young.
“He has a lot of potential,” Favre said in November. “He's only 18, and he's already playing with the England national team. At the age of 18, that's something special – you don't see it very often. Of course he can still improve a lot; that's quite normal and he knows that. But he's already very good.”
In his first club game on English soil, Sancho will be desperate to prove exactly that.
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